South by Southwest 5.11a

  • Currently 4.0/5

Lower Cathedral Spire

Yosemite Valley, California USA

Trip Report
TR - South by Southwest and Yosemite in the fall
Monday November 14, 2011 2:36pm
Late fall is my favorite time of year in Yosemite. It’s mostly the air for me in this season that does it. The temps of it and the chill on the skin, the sharpness in the air, a certain way leaves fall through and sounds and smells move through late fall air. It seems to me like the light is a thick cloak on the Valley’s surfaces, kind of making pine needles and granite pick up a thick honey look in my mind. I lived in Maine for four years and maybe that did it, because people go batshit over fetishizing fall back there, for good reason. That probably wore off on me.

CA Dreamin’ and I had a good late fall weekend back at the end of October. Here are some, probably too many, pictures.

Waking up near Hardin.

We wanted to climb on the Elephant, so we were interested in checking the Merced’s flow.

First we went looking for Free Press down by Cascade Falls, but climbed Mud Shark instead.

Three of the Valley’s most storied classics: Crimson Cringe, Fish Crack... and Mud Shark.

Water was too high to climb Free Press, but it looked really good.

Free Press sits in between Fish and the Cringe. Got to get back for that one when water is lower.

High water shut us down on crossing the Merced to the Elephant.

Next time.

After failing to get to Finger Lickin’ via PO hell, we finished that day off with Anticipation and the Gripper. We ended that good fall day with a good fall night at the Ahwahnee, on a comfortable couch by the fire, reading about mutagenic feral infants in the Great Concavity. Then we slept out in the dirt.

Next day we hoofed it up to Lower Cathedral Spire to climb South by Southwest. The views and the killer fall atmosphere up in those Cathedral gullies make hikes in that part of the Valley good.

Can you hear this photo?

The climb was a beauty, a harder grade than I’d usually have the courage for but CA Dreamin’ is an ox of a climber. I first met him in a parking lot in Manteca - Wendy’s - and the next day let out rope while he breezed up his pitches of the Steck-Salathe.

View from LCS (look at that chimney).

Does this date to the 30’s?

After a few pitches on the Regular we get a look at where SxSW breaks off. The .10d fingercrack bulge is visible here.

More good views on route. Cascading granite on all sides of you up there. Setting can’t be beat.

I took the .10d pitch, and managed to fall after reaching the jug that signifies the end of the crux. It’s a fantastic pitch - you have to step off the end of a narrow ledge to pull into the first lock, and it’s the first big exposure of the climb. Like fingerlocking your way off of a ship’s plank with the ocean 1,000 ft below.

The steepness and position of that pitch and the next make for great exposure and climbing. What a plumb for Shipley on the FA. From the belay before the .11a hands pitch.

My gear for the fingers bit.

Good place to while the time away and feel that fall air around you.

Next up is the .11a hands. Steep and pumpy, this pitch is full of jam after buttery smooth, tight-hands, red-camalot jam. Quality meter pegged at redline on this pitch. Liebacking on steep flakes and the occasional undercling or fist jam add variety. Talking about it later, we though that yeah, technique always helps on every pitch anywhere, and yeah you’ve got to climb like smoke and all that, but on steep pitches like this one you also just have to be strong. People say it's an easy pitch, but I'm really glad I didn't have to lead it. I wouldn't call it easy at all.

Then the top-out and the experience of being on that spire’s summit, and the veiws.

Steep raps.

Found this:

Like honey

On the way out of the Valley we stopped in to say hello to Tom and thank him for all of the El Cap Reports. Tom is like the golden bowl, the gift that keeps on giving.

Tommy Caldwell’s folks were on the bridge, and we all watched Tommy rip up pitch 11 for a while. His dad mentioned that while he and Tommy we hiking up to the base that morning, all Tommy could talk about was how psyched he was for Sonnie Trotter on the Prophet, who’d been making some big progress that day. Exciting times on El Cap.

Also at the bridge was Solo Dan, who’d impressed all ECR readers by battling his way up the Nose over 10 days or so. He had some hilarious and horrific stories to tell.

Another good fall weekend in Yosemite on the books.

Credit: le_bruce

  Trip Report Views: 2,855
About the Author
le_bruce is a climber from Oakland: what's not to love?.

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  Nov 14, 2011 - 03:02pm PT
woah. truly outstanding imagery.

Social climber
  Nov 14, 2011 - 03:21pm PT
Always wondered what SxSW was like. Thanks for the TR and awesome images!

  Nov 14, 2011 - 03:23pm PT
Hey le_bruce,
Great pics. Looks like you had a great weekend,

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Nov 14, 2011 - 03:31pm PT
Great TR, le bruce! I love the way you captured both the fall colors and the feel of LCS. I haven't done South by Southwest, but I've certainly used that fixed pin on the way to Main Ledge on the Regular Route.

Thanks again for an excellent TR.


Gym climber
  Nov 14, 2011 - 04:34pm PT
Great trip report, and proud ascents!

You probably remember this, re the purple Blackberry:

Trad climber
The state of confusion
  Nov 14, 2011 - 05:58pm PT

1. I could hear that picture!
2. That alien needs some wire work!!!

3. Thanx for a great TR!!!!

Trad climber
New England
  Nov 14, 2011 - 06:29pm PT
Beautiful shots, Bryce. Good to see you are getting after it. SBSW looks terrific, nicely done!
Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
  Nov 14, 2011 - 08:34pm PT
this is one killer TR.

Social climber
Mill Valley, CA
  Nov 14, 2011 - 09:25pm PT
Great TR but I'm confused...where was the epic? I mean, your TR's always involve an epic!

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Nov 14, 2011 - 09:33pm PT
LeBruce = LeGrande Trip report!

Thank you!
Dos XX

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  Nov 14, 2011 - 09:38pm PT
Simply superb, in very way: imagery, description, and sounds of crunching leaves!
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
On the road.
  Nov 14, 2011 - 09:56pm PT
Very nice photos.

Trad climber
Station Wagon, USA
  Nov 14, 2011 - 10:55pm PT
Impressive to read about how you're getting after it in light of becoming a new dad. Beautiful photos and a wonderful TR.

Trad climber
Hustle City
  Nov 14, 2011 - 11:06pm PT
What an Eye. Superb TR sir!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Nov 14, 2011 - 11:39pm PT
Stellar photos,
looks like one of your alien trigger wires is ready to fail...:)

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
  Nov 15, 2011 - 12:20am PT
nice write up

sharp pictures


San Diego
  Nov 15, 2011 - 12:43am PT
Awesome! Thanks for sharing.

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
  Nov 15, 2011 - 02:47am PT
Good stuff, buddy!

Gym climber
sawatch choss
  Nov 15, 2011 - 08:53am PT
Boy, your pictures bring me right back there. I bet you'll be savoring this little trip all winter. Thanks!
Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
  Nov 15, 2011 - 09:09am PT
Gettin after it as usual, I see. Near the end of your image deck is a pic of your partner at the top of the talus field below the spire. Angus and I took off running down that area one day, slapping at mosquitos and laughing carelessly. Seconds later I started a small slide that pinned my leg under a rock, hurt like hell. Reality bath.

Jeez that was 20 years ago!


Oakland, CA
Author's Reply  Nov 15, 2011 - 02:16pm PT
Thanks, all.

Good eye on the Alien, folks - seeing that, Adam?

WanderlustMD, no offense intended toward you proud denizens of Maine.

Shinto, where's your 28 pitches TR? The idea of it keeps surfacing in my mind, like a piece of mail I lost.

Yeah, no epic. I've hung a sign above my gear here at home, "These tools have gone __ days without an unplanned bivy." I'm now nearly up to 3 months. I get a bonus from my wife if I make 1/2 year. The bonus is a trip to Ironworks together.

DMT - Kerouac poisoned the rational decision-making of many a mountain-goer when he wrote:

Then suddenly everything was just like jazz: it happened in one insane second or so: I looked up and saw Japhy running down the mountain in huge twenty-foot leaps, running, leaping, landing with a great drive of his booted heels, bouncing five feet or so, running, then taking another long crazy yelling yodelaying sail down the sides of the world and in that flash I realized it's impossible to fall off mountains you fool...

What a merciless literary trap. A whole generation of Sierra scree scramblers' ankles wantonly snapped. And this just one of the many pernicious lies fed to the unsuspecting by the Beat generation.

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Feb 14, 2017 - 03:14pm PT
CA Dreamin'

San Jose
  Feb 15, 2017 - 02:54pm PT
Seeing this trip report brought back memories of magical times in the Valley. Climbing good routes (excluding Mud Shark - I can't believe we climbed that!), with a great partner, while witnessing a portion of history created and left indelible impressions. I would suspect, and hope, that those who have become part of that Park by pulling on that sublime granite can relate.

I count myself as blessed to have roped up with le_bruce. His love for his family is beyond admirable and it speaks to the quality of his character. His passion for climbing is contagious and can't be measured. His skill and demeanor on the rock are as solid as the Columbia Boulder. Plus, he writes great trip reports, and we all win when that happens!
Inner City

Trad climber
Portland, OR
  Feb 15, 2017 - 08:15pm PT
what a marvelous trip report...thinking back on those marvelous times climbing in the Cathedral The Valley has a magic of its own. This report is such a sterling example of why this site still has great content.


Dave Reid
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Lower Cathedral Spire - South by Southwest 5.11a - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click to Enlarge
View from near the base.
Photo: Randy Spurrier
Other Routes on Lower Cathedral Spire
Lower Cathedral Spire - Regular Route 5.9 - Yosemite Valley, California USA. Click for details.
Regular Route, 5.9
Lower Cathedral Spire
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Climber on the first pitch with the route above.